Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Her Interactive

Released:  July 2008

PC Requirements:   1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU, 128 MB of RAM, 1 GB or more of hard drive space, 32 MB DirectX 9.0 compatible video card, 16 bit DirectX compatible sound card, 24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers


Additional Screenshots






by Becky


Nancy Drew enters an underground room, dimly lit and lined with rusted pipes, gauges and dials. The door slams behind her. A rushing sound and water pours into the room. Trapped! Has our heroine’s luck finally run out? Is there any hope of escape?

Enchant us Once Again

Thus begins Ms. Drew’s eighteenth mystery adventure, The Phantom of Venice.

The dramatic opening sequence is followed by a flashback -- gameplay commences at the point, earlier in the week, when Nancy first arrives in Venice. Nancy has flown to Italy at the instigation of her aristocratic friend, Prudence Rutherford (from Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Scarlet Hand). Nancy is working with the Italian police, who are investigating a series of recent art-related thefts. Wearing a mask and cape, the criminal, dubbed “The Phantom,” has been stealing historical works – a golden chalice, a Guttenberg Bible, and an original score of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

No one knows the Phantom’s identity or how he manages to overcome complicated security systems. Nancy takes up residence in a boarding house formerly owned by Prudence Rutherford and tries to solve the mystery that has stymied the police.

Masquerade! Every Face a Different Shade…

In keeping with the local Carnevale Di Venezia, our heroine soon encounters other masked characters drawn from the Commedia dell’Arte. The costumes and classical names of these theatrical figures not only disguise their wearers’ true identities, but also contribute to an atmosphere of opulence (tinged with menace).

The mask theme also suits the people Nancy meets who aren’t wearing costumes or masks. As events unfold, it becomes apparent that hidden agendas and false identities are second nature to the sophisticated Venetians. As you can imagine, the dramatic tension in Phantom revolves around figuring out who can – and can’t – be trusted. Not to be outdone, Nancy assumes two aliases to further her own investigation.

Phantom contains a memorable cast. Colin Baxter is a handsome expat Brit. He’s a restoration expert with a desire to do justice to the artworks he’s restoring while satisfying the demands of his employer (and harboring a growing affection for a certain undercover detective). Then there’s the social climbing widow with a veneer of respectability, the beautiful journalist who has befriended all the Venetian movers and shakers, and the card-playing man in the mask who judges people by their skill at Scopa.

Voiceovers are very good – a surprise since the Italian accent is one of the most caricatured in movies and games. In Phantom, the broad “Luigi and Mario” type of accent occurs in only one place, and is associated with a tech device rather than a person. Lip sync is accurate and facial expressions are subtle and natural. The dialogs are well written and suit each character. But they can’t be clicked through, so that at times I sat just waiting for them to end.

Lani Minella reprises her now-famous role as the game’s heroine, managing to be intelligent, perky, and relentless all at the same time. In Phantom Nancy seems more grown up than in the previous games I’ve played, perhaps because she is on her own in a foreign city and the tasks required of her are riskier. I enjoyed Nancy’s increased maturity.

If it's Loudly Sung and in a Foreign Tongue… 

Venice wouldn’t be Venice without gondoliers, and plenty appear in the game. You can elect to move about the gameworld via gondola, paying extra to hear the gondoliers sing. When you pay, you’re treated to a photo and animation montage of the canals of Venice. I spent a leisurely stretch riding with the gondoliers, admiring the water, sky, and architecture while listening to their songs.

The graphics in Phantom are vivid and detailed, though a trifle hazy when using the wide-screen graphical option. A few locations have 360-degree panning, but in others you must use the 180-degree turn icon – the game doesn’t allow you to see what’s on Nancy’s left or right, but only what’s ahead and what’s behind. Venice really comes to life in depictions of leaf-strewn courtyards, rooms with a view, bright but weatherworn surfaces, nuanced shadows and quaint furnishings.

The background music varies from jaunty walking music to dissonant tones that evoke a sense of formless dread. Ambient sounds also contribute to the atmosphere. In Venice, of course, there are all kinds of water sounds – lapping, dripping, and splashing. In the piazzas you’ll hear footfalls, pigeons cooing and random conversations in Italian.

Who was that Shape in the Shadows?

This game cleverly relies on the layout of Venice and aspects of Italian culture to create a variety of challenges. For example, in one sequence, Nancy uses the game map to track a moving object throughout the available locations, partly on foot and partly via canal. Another example: the Italian language is used as a puzzle in one sequence where undercover policemen are mere shadows in the landscape, just as the Phantom is. As the police tell Nancy their locations in Italian, Nancy tries to find the Phantom by process of elimination.

For puzzle traditionalists, the game includes code-solving puzzles, an unusual chess puzzle, plus a few mechanical and inventory manipulation challenges. Ms. Drew must also monitor her financial resources – particularly if she takes lots of gondola rides, buys extra clothing, or indulges in the pleasures of gelato (a kind of ice cream). If overspending becomes a problem, Nancy has several ways to make more money, including auditioning as a dancer. Nancy’s dance routine is a hoot to watch, as she has to execute “groovy” dance movements (The Monkey, The Cher, The Twist, etc.) while the director critiques her performance. The dance sequence is also timed, which makes it fairly difficult. I humiliated poor Nancy by seeing to it that she earned lots of money in this undignified fashion.

You will encounter other timed movement challenges in Phantom. Some you probably won’t complete without failing a few times. Failure results in a quick description of why Ms. Drew is sent back home; then you are returned to the point immediately before you failed. With one exception, I did not find the timed challenges to be so difficult as to become annoying. The exception was a timed sequence near the end where the goal can only be reached through trial and error. In my experience, when significant experimentation is required, a timer exponentially increases the gamer’s frustration.

In fact, this is the first adventure game I’ve played in which I found myself actually enjoying some of the time sensitive challenges. I didn’t mind trying the dance sequence again and again, for instance, because I was enjoying the process itself. Perhaps the frustration with timed challenges is not just that the gamer has to move quickly, but that the activity itself is often so tedious. Still, this game would have been even better if it had provided an option for bypassing the timed sequences after a certain number of failures.

Phantom features a surprisingly entertaining stealth sequence, done from a top-down perspective. Another fun challenge is the colorful card game Scopa, which involves a bit of strategy and some simple math. For the sheer enjoyment, I played many more hands than were necessary to finish the overall game.

I had a grand old time in Venice with the charmingly versatile Ms. Drew.

Make Your Choice

This is a point-and-click adventure, played from the first person perspective, with easy navigation from screen to screen. The inventory is simple to use. I encountered only one minor glitch – a hotspot that disappeared after I used the binoculars with it (the binoculars worked again without the hotspot, so this glitch didn’t create a dead end).

The game can be played at either the Junior or Senior Detective Level. The Junior Level provides a checklist and occasional phone clues that can get you moving if you are stuck. Unless you are a hardcore adventure game achiever, I recommend the Junior Detective Level. A thorough tutorial at the beginning of the game is a great feature if you haven’t played any of the earlier Nancy Drew games. You need not have played any of Ms. Drew’s previous games in order to enjoy this one.

Many Notes from Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice

A lively mystery game suitable for all ages. One of the best games in the Nancy Drew series. First person perspective, point-and-click interface.

A special commendation should go to the designers, who have provided a variety of entertaining puzzles, some influenced by the city of Venice and by Italian culture and language. Inventory and logic puzzles, code breaking, a particularly fun card game, many timed puzzles. No sliders, two mazes. One sound matching puzzle. It will be difficult to finish the game if you have trouble distinguishing colors. The inventory is easy to use.

Two of the most difficult puzzles – a maze with a structure reminiscent of a “Towers of Hanoi” puzzle and a fax machine challenge that requires patience and analytical skill.

Colorful, elaborate environments, giving a good sense of the sumptuous city of Venice. Characters with distinct personalities and many secrets to hide. Enjoyable dialogs, good voiceovers.

Nancy can’t die, but she does fail – the game takes you right back to the moment before the failure. One minor hotspot glitch. No problems with installation. A good, optional opening tutorial. Unlimited save slots.

Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is aimed at the many of fans of Ms. Drew, but also at any gamer who likes a good mystery, devious characters, and clever, sometimes time sensitive challenges.

Final Grade: A-

Note: section headings are from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.

August 2008

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